June 13, 2010

In the Arts: Exhibition celebrates
an artist of dark imagination


The principal exhibition of work by an artist who lives in Maine -- of this season and likely this year -- is "Joseph Nicoletti: A Retrospective" at the Bates College Museum of Art. Nicoletti teaches at Bates, but this isn't the obligatory one-person show accorded a senior faculty member. (Those often demonstrate why they are obligatory.)

click image to enlarge

Martha Groome’s “Where Blue Comes In,” 24 by 56 inches, acrylic on canvas, at ICON Contemporary Art in Brunswick

Courtesy of the artist

click image to enlarge

Joseph Nicoletti’s “Still Life After Bellini,” 2003, oil on canvas, 50 by 40 inches, at the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston

Courtesy Bates College Museum of Art

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WHERE: Bates College Museum of Art, 75 Russell St., Lewiston. 786-6158

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

CLOSES: Sept. 25



WHERE: ICON Contemporary Art, 19 Mason St., Brunswick. 725-8157

HOURS: 1 to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday

CLOSES: July 3


WHERE: Center for Maine Contemporary Art, 62 Russell Ave., Rockport. 236-2875

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

CLOSES: July 17

This wonderful exhibition celebrates an artist of dark imagination, who urges the subconscious and those of us who have similar preoccupations.

The darkness in Nicolette's work is more than a matter of mood. It is a matter of a haunted imagination. In it are mystic plants coated with substances intended to confuse malevolent spirits. The plants and the spirits antagonize one another.

From those botanic abrasions come lilies that mask the smell of the embalmer. Spidery plants, fetid and bitter, survive in it to preside over the trays and hard tables of the post-mortem examiner.

There are altars in his work that exist in a state of piety and mission. Their appointment is to console the viewer through the use of mystical equivalents. It is not a matter of simply providing symbols; rather it is the intensity that he has infused into those symbols that are his achievement.

You can test this by considering the objects that furnish his altars -- still life compositions. Their subjects -- the cloth, the vessel, the severed bread, the flowers in lieu of candles, the liquid -- speak of sacrifice, of mystery and death.

They are beautifully painted, in some cases ravishingly so, but the artist's skill at this is secondary to his haunted imagination. This is rare in still life painting. The immediacy of the things portrayed is the usual name of that game.

With Nicoletti, they are the things by which the game can be played. They give form to the recesses of his mind.

Mystery and reminders of death are not the sum of Nicoletti's work. The show also includes several beautiful paintings that treat of the landscape of Italy and a few of Maine.

But they are not fundamental to his accomplishment. It is the studio paintings that are his legacy to us. They inform us that there is a cloak of darkness over the symbols of hope.


I am a years-long admirer of the work of Martha Groome, and I welcome the opportunity to put a few words to it. Her paintings are geometric abstraction in its most reductive form. Their severity and thrift are classically obtained from the early work of the likes of Barnett Newman, Brice Mardin and Ellsworth Kelly.

I don't usually dabble in art history, but I wish to emphasize that the conviction I find in Groome's paintings is a staunch continuation of a brilliant American tradition. They are exquisite in their appeal to the rationalist side of my nature. You can view a selection of them this month at ICON Contemporary Art in Brunswick.

Composed of groups of rectangular forms, the paintings have an inevitable affinity for one another. But they are not simply variations of a theme. As restricted as they are in both a formal sense and in nuanced color, there is a celebratory freshness to each of them. Each appears to confront its restrictions with a new eye.

Each painting in the show has its own species of animation. The rectangles move in to compress one another, expand beyond the edges of the canvas, slice through conjoining forms and cut their neighbors off at their bases.

Groome has kept faith with a compelling tradition. In Maine, if not singular, she is joined by only a few. As polished as her art is, it fits comfortably with who we think we are (or perhaps, were).

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

“West Gardiner Road” by Kenneth Deprez, from the 2010 Biennial at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport

Courtesy of the artist


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